Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014

Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014

Louisiana ranks 5th in fiscal reporting rankings; Post Office explores offering small dollar loans; Widening inequality reflected in retailers’ fates; Privatized hospitals continue to face funding problems; Jindal rescinds controversial abortion regulations; Frustrated with Louisiana, Cerise moves to Texas; and Free “Inequality for All” screening on Thursday. $13.75 million — The current state shortfall for hospital retiree insurance benefits under Gov. Jindal’s privatization plan (Source: The Advocate)

Louisiana ranks 5th in fiscal reporting rankings
Some good news for a state that often fares poorly in various national rankings: The Pelican State ranks among the best states in the country for fiscal planning, according to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Louisiana received high remarks for using fiscal notes to estimate costs and savings associated with bills; maintaining a non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Office to objectively analyze the state budget; and reviewing pension fund and debt levels. However, the state should extend its spending and revenue projections to five years, allow independent reviews of methods used to determine future pension funding, and maintain a strong balance in a rainy day fund, the report said. Louisiana scored 7.5 out of 10 on the survey, the fifth-highest ranking among states.

Post Office explores offering small dollar loans
The U.S. Post Office might begin offering basic banking services like debit cards and small-dollar loans as a way to shore up its budget while also saving poor families billions of dollars. As a new report from the USPS Inspector General details, low-income families across the nation with limited access to banks spent $89 billion in interest and fees in 2012 to use services offered by payday lenders, check-cashing stores and other unscrupulous lenders. The IG’s report says USPS can use its current infrastructure to offer better small dollar loan products at drastically lower fees. Since the government agency ran the very successful Postal Savings System from 1911 to 1967 (which held deposits for over four million customers), the agency has the legal authority to begin its small-dollar lending program without congressional action.

Widening inequality reflected in retailers’ fates
While the debate over income inequality continues to roil the nation’s political waters, it is largely a settled matter in the business sector, The New York Times reports. The proof: High-end retailers, hotels and restaurants are thriving, and so are bargain-basement discount chains like Dollar Tree. But companies that traditionally cater to middle-class customers – retail chains like Sears and restaurant chains such as Red Lobster and the Olive Garden – are suffering. “Even more striking, the current recovery has been driven almost entirely by the upper crust,“ the paper reports. “Since 2009, the year the recession ended, inflation-adjusted spending by this top echelon has risen 17 percent, compared with just 1 percent among the bottom 95 percent.”

Privatized hospitals continue to face funding problems
More financial headaches for the newly privatized state hospital system: The Advocate reports that the state is facing a $13.75 million shortfall related to health benefits for retired hospital workers. The latest shortfall is largely due to the administration’s mistaken assumption that it could use federal dollars to pay most of the costs. Now with those assumptions proved wrong, the administration plans to pull money out of the hospitals’ reserve funds.

Jindal rescinds controversial abortion regulations
The state Department of Health and Hospitals is rescinding controversial abortion regulations that it quietly issued during the Thanksgiving holiday. The regulations — originally passed on an “emergency” basis — would have effectively banned abortions in Louisiana by requiring much larger abortion rooms in new or renovated facilities, mandating more specialized staff and imposing a 30-day waiting period for most abortions. According to Nola.com, the governor’s team has rescinded those regulations because of legal vulnerabilities and will release a new set of regulations for public comment once language governing the licensure of outpatient abortion facilities is complete.

Frustrated with Louisiana, Cerise moves to Texas
The former head of the state charity hospital system – who was removed from his post for disagreeing with the administration’s efforts to privatize the hospitals – has been tapped as the next CEO of Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas.  In addition to serving as state health secretary under Gov. Kathleen Blanco, Dr. Fred Cerise was a major supporter of Medicaid expansion and a leader in Louisiana’s efforts to restore health services after Hurricane Katrina. A New Orleans native and longtime champion of public health care, Cerise said the state’s privatization push played a role in his departure: “They (Parkland) have a lot of public support instead of debating whether they should exist or not,” he told The Advocate.

Free “Inequality for All” screening on Thursday
LBP invites you to attend a free screening of the film “Inequality for All” on Thursday, Feb. 6, at the Baton Rouge Kress Gallery (447 3rd St., Baton Rouge). The film (you can view the trailer here) is narrated by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich and discusses how the massive consolidation of wealth by a few has a devastating impact on our economy and on the foundation of American democracy itself. With the 2014 legislative session fast approaching, this is a unique opportunity to discuss solutions to one of the most pressing issues of our time. Light refreshments will be served at 5 p.m., and the film will start promptly at 5:30 p.m., followed by a post-screening Q&A. Seating is limited and available on a first come first serve basis. Please RSVP here so we can provide an adequate amount of refreshments. Note that an RSVP does not ensure a seat at the event.

$13.75 million — The current state shortfall for hospital retiree insurance benefits under Gov. Jindal’s privatization plan (Source: The Advocate)